Spell of the Looking Glass

Original Title: Im Bann des Eulenspiegels. (Eine tolle Sache. Eine lustige Geschichte von der Jagd nach Geld und Liebe.) Comedy 1932; 78 min.; Director: Frank Wisbar; Cast: Oskar Karlweis, Ursula Grabley, Franz Weber, Til Klokow, Theo Lingen, Karl Platen, Hugo Fischer-Köppe, Raimund Janitschek, Hedwig Wangel, Olly Gebauer; Kollektiv-Terra-Tobis-Klangfilm.

A worker and nurse discover a hidden $10,000 stash in a mirror with an owl. They visit a baron to claim it, encountering numerous owl-decorated mirrors. The young man becomes obsessed, leading to jealousy. However, an escaped convict destroys the money, leaving the young man devastated. The baroness expresses her desire for a future with him.

Honor, status, and pension—all of this is risked by Menzel, a small prison hospital worker, for his colleague, nurse Lissy. One night, they overhear a conversation between two criminals discussing their plans to escape from prison. The content of the conversation is worth $10,000. Urged by Lissy, Menzel embarks on an adventure that leads them into endless pursuits.

Driven by Lissy, Menzel ventures to Berlin to locate the $10,000 that one of the criminals had hidden in a wall mirror shortly before his arrest. Menzel strikes a deal with the owner of the owl-adorned mirror, Baron von Altmann, for a fifty percent reward upon finding the money. During the negotiations, he meets Elli, the baron’s traveling daughter. Menzel and Elli team up with her father to search for the owl mirror, which should still be hanging in the baron’s sold villa. However, to their dismay, they discover not just one, but many owl mirrors ordered by the hotel owner. The hunt takes them to a mirror factory, where thousands of owl mirrors loom eerily in the large storages and on the assembly line. Desperate, the two continue their stealthy pursuit, learn the current address of the original owl mirror, and end up at the widow Schramm’s place. They sneak into a party she is hosting to celebrate the closing of her somewhat disreputable Paradise Bar. However, the mystery deepens as there are two mirrors present, and neither the baron nor Menzel can get their hands on one.

Bewildered and surrounded by danger, Menzel wanders through the city, chasing after $10,000 and nearly missing out on a much greater value—the spirited and determined Elli, who secretly worries and hopes for him. Complicating matters further, Lissy arrives in Berlin, seeking Menzel and feeling jealous of Elli. Both women immediately vie for Menzel’s attention, leading to a confrontation that is intervened by Rosnowsky, a dealer and a friend of the baron. Rosnowsky reconciles the two women and takes them to the widow Schramm’s bar, where the merry pursuit continues. The search for the owl mirror becomes a power struggle between Lissy and Elli for Menzel’s affection and a speculative business between Rosnowsky and the baron. After a scuffle, Rosnowsky is allowed to continue celebrating alone in the bar, as he is entrusted with the care of the owl mirrors. He watches over Uncle Max, a relative of the widow Schramm, who is speculating on the one remaining owl mirror for some mysterious purpose.

That night, Menzel takes an extra step to reach the last owl mirror. This arouses suspicion that he has embezzled the money, even though there was nothing in that mirror. No one believes his protests, except for Elli, who stands by his side. She encourages him to find the only remaining owl mirror, which was supposed to be guarded by Rosnowsky, in order to clear his name of the embezzlement accusation. Aware that Uncle Max is safeguarding the last owl mirror, Rosnowsky blackmails Menzel, offering the address in exchange for the money hidden in the mirror to finance a fantastic project. Menzel and Elli agree to the terms. The money is lost to them—Rosnowsky has secured it for himself in case it is found. However, Menzel’s honor is still at stake. Followed by the baron, Elli, Lissy, and Rosnowsky, Menzel rushes to the given address of Uncle Max. They discover that Uncle Max is the owner of an owl mirror maze at the amusement park. Pushing, shoving, and running, they all chase through the maze, with the owl mirror deceptively appearing, until Klemmke, one of the escaped criminals, manages to reach the mirror first. He smashes it and finds the money! Everyone witnesses it—Menzel’s honor is restored! Overwhelmed, Menzel, not even thinking about Elli, loses his composure and races to the train station to return and, at the very least, save his job. Elli chases after him.

Klemmke is pursued, but realizing that escape is impossible, he throws the $10,000 into a confetti machine at the amusement park. $10,000 dollars swirl in the wind, scattering among the treasure seekers! While they mourn the lost money, the two individuals who haven’t thought about the money for a long time finally find each other at the train station, just in the nick of time. Elli follows Menzel, who has narrowly escaped, back to the province.

j-n.’s review in Film Kurier No. 295 (December 15, 1932)
In this case, “Eulenspiegel” is not the foolish philosopher who transitioned from medieval folk books to world literature and folklore. Here, it’s simply a wall mirror with an ornamental frame featuring a squinting, slit-eyed owl. However, it misleads people just as much as the folk fool did.

Someone who escapes from prison at the beginning of the film hides ten thousand dollars behind this mirror, between the glass and the backing. Since then, hundreds of mirrors based on this model have been produced and become mass-produced items.

A triple pursuit of the money ensues, captivating the escaped convict, the former owner, and a young man working as a provisional worker in the prison hospital. The nurse he loves, who works in this hospital, tells him she won’t marry him unless he can offer her more than just the title of a pharmacist. She suggests he steal the money from the others, and only then can they discuss the joys of a future marriage.

The lines spoken by the nurse are somewhat contrived, resting on a weak foundation of partially outdated societal views and flawed contemporary social morality.

At the end of the film, the pursued convict throws the recovered dollar bills into a confetti machine at an amusement park. The audience thinks, “Serves you right,” as the army of individuals interested in this business grows throughout the film, following famous, or rather infamous, examples of modern business methods.

The film is a collective film, an experiment.

Today, films are often unfairly criticized for not experimenting enough. Most of those who make such accusations are the least willing to engage in experiments, advocate for them, or include them in their repertoire.

However, those who claim that the audience desires films that deviate from the norm cannot deny the audience this film.

The film doesn’t always avoid the film schema; sometimes it falls short. This is particularly evident when portraying young characters. In such instances, skillfully played individual melodies on the accordion or the sounds of a passing train are more welcome as dialogue substitutes than the actual dialogue being spoken.

Nevertheless, director Frank Wysbar has succeeded in portraying certain milieus excellently. Characters like the so-called financial agent played by Theo Lingen are quick-witted and superior. There are also game scenes between Oskar Karlweiß and Olly Gebauer that possess a captivating and thrilling atmosphere.

The direction of the collective is uneven. Many actors play alongside each other without much connection. Ursula Grabley (blonde for the first time; why, actually?) moves through the ensemble’s frame pale and impersonal.

Cinematographer Herbert Körner captures strong impressions when characterizing the milieu, whether in indoor or outdoor scenes. He favors a strong distribution of light and shadow. However, he also achieves some picturesque and delicate visual effects, although the portrayal of individual main figures is uncertain.

The progression of the scenes remains lacking, especially in the events at the amusement park (also in the film’s editing).

Nevertheless, the film remains engaging until the end, and the audience is stimulated and warmly welcomes the new aspects that are clearly aimed for with applause.